“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” – Matthew 25: 35-36
These words from Jesus Christ have special meaning to Sue Smith. The New Jersey native is among the growing number of Presbyterians who have committed to become a Pillar of the Church, a campaign working to provide long-term support to the ministries of Compassion, Peace and Justice within the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
Smith, a ruling elder and member of First Presbyterian Church in Rumson graduated last spring from seminary and is currently going through the ordination process. Her growing passion for church service followed her election as a commissioner to the 217th General Assembly in 2006.
“By luck of the draw I was assigned to the social justice committee. I really didn’t know how much the church did in social justice work because we did not hear a lot about it in the pews,” she said. “I spent time in the exhibit hall at General Assembly and met church staff and people from other organizations related to the church, which led to my involvement with Presbyterians for Earth Care.”
As she began to see a reduction in church funding and staff, Smith saw this as an opportunity to put new energy into her work.
“I wanted to be a follower of the Jesus in Matthew 25, watching out for the hungry and working on water issues,” she said. “I was energized by my involvement with these social justice concerns.”
Smith says she has always felt the ministries of Compassion, Peace and Justice provided valuable resources for churches interested in advocacy through ministries like the Office for Public Witness in Washington, D.C.
“I was on the board of a local soup kitchen and we fed lunch to as many as 100 people a day,” she said. “But that won’t solve hunger; you need government to step in. We have offices in the nation’s capital that can engage in advocacy on the church’s behalf for us. They have the information and the resources.”
Smith says that aside from those who attend and are involved with the General Assembly, the biggest hurdle is that many people in the churches don’t know what the denomination does and all the resources that are available beyond the four walls of their own church building.
The Pillars of the Church campaign was quietly launched in November of 2014 with church staff and was publicly announced last April during Compassion, Peace and Justice Training Day in Washington, D.C. Leaders say they wanted to encourage a sustaining and generous community of donors who are committed to the church and its programs.
So far, more than 125 pastors, members, presbyteries and congregations have committed to joining Pillars of the Church. Church leaders believe it will build a strong foundation for its many programs and ministries.
“It is very exciting to see how much energy and support the Pillars of the Church initiative has generated over the last year,” said Sara Lisherness, director of Compassion, Peace and Justice with the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “What is even more powerful is that many of the ‘Pillars’ match their financial support with active involvement in ministry and mission. Pillars like Sue are very generous, supporting Compassion, Peace and Justice financially as well as being active and engaged in our mission and ministry.”
Individuals interested in joining Pillars of the Church can designate a monthly, sustaining gift to support a specific ministry of Compassion, Peace and Justice. Gifts can also be made in honor or in memory of a loved one. Gifts can be made online at presbyterianmission.org/supportcpj.
For more information on the Pillars initiative, contact Rev. Rosemary Mitchell, Mission Engagement Advisory for Public Witness and Advocacy, at Rosemary.firstname.lastname@example.org